France’s Foreign Minister said Saturday that a successful outcome to the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be like a "thunderbolt" for peace in the crisis-ridden Middle East.
"Even if we speak of other neighboring countries -- the dramatic conflict in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt -- the fact remains that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region," Minister Laurent Fabius said in Ramallah after meeting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, reported AFP.
"In a particularly troubled regional environment, it is even more important that we advance towards peace here," Fabius said.
"If these negotiations are successful, it will be a thunderbolt for peace...a great stabilizing element."
"Our support is more necessary than ever," he added. "This is the moment when we must make a breakthrough for peace."
Israeli and PA negotiators formally resumed direct peace talks earlier this month after a hiatus of nearly three years, thanks to an intense bout of shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Speaking in Amman on Saturday after talks with chief PA negotiator Saeb Erakat, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said he expected the next round of talks to take place "in a few days from now."
"On all sides, particularly that of the United States, there are elements which are serious and encouraging regarding the success of the negotiations," official Jordanian news agency Petra quoted him as saying.
Sources in the PA, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expect the talks to be held early next week in Jericho.
Fabius arrived early Saturday on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at encouraging the sides.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the visitor, Abbas said that his team entered the talks, about which no details have so far been revealed, in good faith.
"I should like to say that the Palestinians are negotiating with good intentions," he said, according to AFP. "We want to negotiate in a positive spirit."
"We hope that it is the same on the Israeli side, we want to create the proper climate for stopping settlement, which is illegal to us and to the world," said Abbas.
Fabius will meet in Jerusalem on Sunday with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's lead negotiator in the talks.
On Thursday, Abbas met with members of the Meretz party and claimed that if a peace agreement is reached with Israel, it would bring an end to his people’s demands of the Jewish state.
"I know your concerns, but guarantee that at the conclusion of successful negotiations, we undertake to end all the demands. We will not ask to return to Yafo, Akko and Tzfat,” he said.
The members of Meretz said that Abbas told them a “fair agreement” will end the conflict with Israel and that a “peace agreement with Israel will be final and binding." He did not, however, specify what is meant by a fair peace agreement and did not commit to the fact that PA would give up its demand for the “right of return”.
While details of the discussions between the sides have not been revealed, apparently consistent with a request from Washington last week for a strict news blackout, Erekat told the Nazareth-based Arabic language A-Shams this that the PA would not have returned to the negotiating table with Israel had it not received a letter of assurances from the United States, guaranteeing its main negotiating preconditions.
Erekat said in the interview that the U.S. had assured the PA in writing that talks would recognize the indefensible pre-1967 borders as the basis of a Palestinian state, would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water), would take place within six to nine months and would not allow for any interim solutions before a final status agreement is signed.
Meanwhile, not all PA factions are on board the peace talks. On Friday, hundreds of people in Gaza protested against Israeli-PA peace talks, in marches organized by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups.
Marchers set off from mosques across the coastal strip before converging on a square in the middle of Gaza City, with protesters brandishing signs saying "No to negotiations" and slamming Abbas's "political failure."